In Defense of Mediocrity
Originally published on GameInformer.com September 17, 2010, at 1:36 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding: Editor and Reader Picks 9/24/10.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter 9/21/10.
I've always said I have a high tolerance for mediocrity, at least by most people's standards. Video games certainly are no exception. It takes a lot to really annoy me (I've only ever returned one purchase out of hundreds) as my measure of a decent game simply isn't as high as most gamers. In fact, I've finished plenty of games that are considered inferior to many more games that I've only made token progress in. In that spirit, I've decided to defend a few much maligned titles.
Rebellion's Delta Force: Black Hawk Down for PS2 was a solid if colorless excursion into Somalia. I recall complaints about AI, particularly allies who reportedly were pretty lame. However, my allies would often detect and eliminate foes before I even knew they were there. And foes took advantage of large levels with multiple paths to flank my position. Mostly standard even including on-rails segments from gunships, but executed well, and action packed.
Irem's Disaster Report for PS2 received more than its share of criticism for its presentation, frame rate and repetitive gameplay. I for one do not recall frame rate problems but the low polygon world and repeat actions are valid complaints. However, the ingenuity of this essentially platforming game, scaling debris while searching for life saving water and a way out of a collapsing city, makes such cries seem petty. Occasional trial and error gameplay can grate, but this was a solid exercise.
Team Soho's The Getaway for PS2 was a divisive game criticized for its cinematic style that eschewed a HUD, featured one firefight after another and whose healing system involved literally taking a breather. Sure the latter was a little ridiculous but I enjoyed the clutter free screen and nonstop action. Whether shooting, targeting or taking cover, or driving (by turn signal), the gameplay was solid and story simple but engrossing. The much ballyhooed production lived up to its billing.
Cavia's Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for PS2 was attacked for, among other things, supposedly imprecise platforming. One of the core elements of gameplay, I thought the platforming and otherwise acrobatic derring do of the heroine performed well in general. Sure at times I'd fall after scaling a building but never felt cheated. And the gunplay too was decent. Sometimes Batou's AI was lacking, but otherwise the anime style and GitS universe were well represented.
Hydravision Entertainment's Obscure for PS2 had a single-player mode that was supposed to suffer from companion idiocy and lame, cliched banter and behavior. However, I found AI was competent (at least until the final boss, when they fell like flies) and appreciated the fun slasher parody. As survival horror, it had all the genre elements and implemented standard gameplay in a quality manner. Critics preferred co-op, which I didn't play, but the single-player mode was no slouch.
SCE Studio's Cambridge's 24: The Game for PS2 received a critical beating for being too formulaic and having flawed gameplay such as driving. I've never watched the series but really enjoyed the game. The cover mechanic is well implemented, gunplay is solid and varied and the story is well told and interesting. And I thought driving worked fine for the most part. The only downside for me was a bug that forced me to replay half the game, which I did begrudgingly, but did nonetheless.
Argonaut Games' SWAT: Global Strike Team for PS2 got knocked for its presentation, AI and level design. I thought the presentation was good, especially impecable, realistic lighting. AI did a fine job. And while levels were standard genre issue, they were varied and offered several paths to and from objectives. All in all, a fun game played from law enforcement's perspective for a welcome change of pace.
Cauldron's The History Channel: Civil War -- A Nation Divided for Xbox 360 overcomes various criticisms for an interesting perspective on a long neglected era, at least for the roughly half I've played. AI is serviceable, and hit detection is not so poor to prove frustrating. Likewise sometimes you might be hit behind cover but it's not problematic. Reloading historical weapons makes a nice compromise between realism and arcade shooting. Plus the presentation is well done.
Spark Unlimited's Turning Point: Fall of Liberty for PS3 belies the overly negative reception for at least the first third of the game. First the presentation is meant to be more fantasy like as with TimeSplitters, Second Sight, Hitman etc. And frankly the era's art deco inspiration, in part, is what drew me. AI provides a decent challenge that improves as you progress, as they more cleverly take advantage of levels that expand with multiple paths. Unpolished in parts, it's nonetheless decent.
IO Interactive's Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days for PS3 is not nearly as flawed as many claim. Contrary to complaints, enemy AI is very good, advancing and firing under cover for the most part, and also flanking. Their aim is not perfect, but can seem so when assaulted by scores. Your hits improve as your weapons upgrade. And the shaky cam is definitely an acquired taste. I for one love it. However, the story IS nonexistent, and levels become generic. But a decent shooter, far from broken.
Maligned games many times garnered high expectations. If they had sailed under the radar, their reception might have been better. Likewise, many suffer by comparison, despite having been fun to play by reviewers' own admissions. Taken alone they might fare better. It's not always fair, but it's reality. It just proves that judging is necessarily selective. Though I don't know why I tend to end up on the wrong side of the argument, lol. That said, can't wait to play 50 Cents: Blood on the Sand!
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